Digital Zone SystemFor somebody unfamiliar to the Zone System, how would you describe it? 

The Zone System was a technique developed about 75 years ago that was used to break down the tones in a photograph into 11 different Zones. These Zones Ranged from 0-10, 0 being Pure Black and 10 being Pure White. Before the age of instant playback on LCD displays, this technique helped the photographer imagine what a photograph would look like prior to entering the Darkroom.

All about the Digital Zone System with Blake RudisHere is a quick idea of how it works. When you tell your camera to meter for a specific area in a scene, it meters it for Zone 5. All of the other areas in the scene that have a different tonal value fall into their respective Zones. Therefore, if you meter for Zone 5 and increase the Exposure Value by 1, it becomes Zone 6 and the other zones increase respectively.

Later, in the dark room, one could manipulate the zones in the photograph. Using a technique called Dodging and Burning, one could take Zone 5 areas to Zone 4 by allowing more time under the enlarger, or take Zone 5 to Zone 6 by allowing less light under the enlarger.

With a strong understanding of the Zone System from concept to creation one could have much more control over their photographs. It helped take a lot of the guess work out of the whole photography process especially when there was no quick reference LCD Screen!

How does the DZS relate to or differ from the ZS brought about 75 years ago?

The 2 techniques are rather different.  The Zone System was commonly practiced when you were exposing the image.  With the DZS you have complete control over the entire image in Adobe Photoshop. However, The Digital Zone System is a new concept based on the tried and true technique developed 75 years ago. With the Digital Zone System one can break down an image in Photoshop into its 11 zones and manipulate each Zone separately from the rest.

All about the Digital Zone System with Blake Rudis

The Digital Zone System I have created in Photoshop allows you to run an Action that will divide the image into the 11 Zones using Curves Adjustments and Layer masks. The Curves can then be manipulated to adjust the tonal value in the Zone of choice. This allows you to accurately adjust individual areas of your photo, making very deliberate enhancements with utmost efficiency.  Gone are the days of global adjustment after global adjustment!

There is a slight learning curve to the Digital Zone System, but that is all thoroughly covered in the instruction package, Black, White & Beyond: The Digital Zone System.

How does using the DZS benefit ones Photography? Are there certain images it works better with as opposed to others?

The Digital Zone System can really benefit any photograph! I have used it on Landscapes, Portraits, Still Life, just about everything.

Beyond the photograph there are many benefits for the photographer as well. The first benefit, it uses the Curves Adjustment Layer, the most powerful tool in Photoshop as its core to create the adjustments. Secondly, it is Action based, so when you click “play” the script runs and you receive all 11 zones specific to that photograph. Also, the masks created are easy to edit and manipulate, you can feather them more to make the Zones blend better and even use traditional mask functions (like black and white) to modify the zones to your liking.

Finally, the main benefit is that you can “psycho” target the tonal values in your image and manipulate them as you see fit. In the past I would go from global adjustment to global adjustment trying to modify one specific area. Surely I was using masks to block out the areas I did not want to affect, but it was very time consuming.

Until October of last year, my workflow would change on a constant basis. I would go from one technique to another trying to find a “go-to” rhythm. I was reading some old photo books about film photography to better understand the digital world when I stumbled upon the Zone System again (I had studied it in great detail in my film days). A light clicked on and I saw the benefits of using the concepts of the original Zone System in my digital workflow.

Can you provide some visual examples of before/afters enhanced following the DZS?

Certainly, it would be my pleasure!

All about the Digital Zone System with Blake Rudis All about the Digital Zone System with Blake Rudis All about the Digital Zone System with Blake RudisWhat advantages does using the DZS have over any other regular technique?

There are many advantages for using it, but one that trumps them all. It is the only way you can break down an image into its most basic tonal values and edit them individually without affecting the areas around them. It is a lot like selective dodging and burning, very selective dodging and burning. I like it because I know exactly what is happening to every aspect of my photo editing because I know what Zone I am modifying.

Another advantage is that it is all layer based in Photoshop and does not do anything destructively. You can use the Curves Adjustments by themselves or you can incorporate other Adjustment layers like Vibrance, Saturation, Exposure, etc using clipping masks. So not only can you modify the tonal values, you can also selectively adjust the saturation of a specific Zone. This is a paramount advantage.

Most techniques are global, meaning they affect the entire image; some techniques are local, meaning they only affect a portion of the image. This technique is on the local side, but instead of just affecting a local area, it gives you the control to modify a very specific area, sometimes minute.

Is it possible to incorporate other plug-ins during the zone editing process?

The beauty of the DZS is that it can fit into anyone’s workflow, at its core it is simply a series of 11 layers. It can be incorporated into any plugin or workflow. I have used it to start my workflow with plugins using the Zone System first. I have also used it after the edits were all said and done in plugins. I have even used plugins and then edited the layers that were output with a specific mask from a specific Zone. The possibilities are truly endless!

All about the Digital Zone System with Blake RudisCheck out this tutorial to learn more about plugin incorporation and see how it can fit into your workflow.

For more information you can check out the Black, White & beyond: The Digital Zone System training package.

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